If you are a member of the Latin Church, the answer, of course, is “yes”. In the West we have a strong tradition of celibate clergy, and those priests who are married – such as Anglican converts – are the exception, not the rule. Celibacy in the priesthood is a cherished tradition in the West, and there has never been a strong movement here to push for married priests.
Thus, Father Laurent Touze, a spiritual theology professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, was quite correct to speak of married priests as an “exception” in an interview with Zenit News Agency. However, the good Father went off the tracks a bit when he tried to apply this practice to the Christian East:
ZENIT: With this measure, do you think that one day, celibacy might become voluntary also for priests of the Latin rite?
Father Touze: No, because the Church is understanding more and more the relation between priesthood, episcopate and celibacy. It is something that could be likened to the revelation of a dogma, though it isn’t so at this time; one tends increasingly to understand that a practice must be promoted among all priests and also among Eastern Catholic priests which is truly similar to the one lived in the first centuries.
This statement of Fr. Touze’s shows either an ignorance or a disrespect for the legitimate traditions of the East. As we in the West have a strong tradition of celibate clergy, so too does the East have a strong tradition of married priests (note, however, that their bishops and monks are always celibate). To wish to “promote” a celibate clergy in the East goes against their praxis which has existed for centuries.
Furthermore, it goes against the teachings of Vatican II, which commanded that the traditions of the East be respected by those of us in the West:
“…the Churches of the East, as much as those of the West, have a full right and are in duty bound to rule themselves, each in accordance with its own established disciplines, since all these are praiseworthy by reason of their venerable antiquity, more harmonious with the character of their faithful and more suited to the promotion of the good of souls,” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, no. 5)
Vatican II also explicitly commends the practice of married priests in the East:
“This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.” (Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, 16)
Finally, the code of canon law for the Eastern Churches, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, demands that the practice of married priests in the East be “held in honor”:
“Clerical celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole Church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.” (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, 373)
It is unfortunate that Fr. Touze chose to ignore these teachings of our Church in his public comments. We in the West should zealously honor our celibate clergy, and should always work to explain and defend the practice of celibacy in the priesthood. But that defense should not come at the expense of our brothers and sisters in the East, who have their own, just-as-legitimate, tradition of married priests.